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Consumers Energy makes first-in-nation goal of "net zero carbon emissions" by 2040


One of the nation's largest electric utilities says it will reach net zero carbon emissions by the year 2040. 

It's the most ambitious goal yet for a U.S. electricity company. Five electric utilities, including DTE Energy, have committed to reaching net zero by 2050.

Net zero carbon emissions means a combination of eliminating and offsetting carbon dioxide emissions to achieve zero carbon emissions attributable to the company.

Consumers Energy plans to close its last coal plant by 2040, and its latest long-term Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) says it will make large investments in solar energy and especially, energy efficiency.

The IRP gets the utility to an 80% reduction in emissions, but the last 20% will likely be much harder to achieve.

CEO Patti Poppe acknowledged the committment is a stretch but she's confident it's possible.

"Every great achievement has started with a goal," said Poppe. "Someobody stating something that isn't true today that will be true in the future."

Poppe said the utility's offsets could include capturing methane emissions from landfills, and planting trees: millions of them. Trees remove CO2 from the air.

But the plan will also likely require the utilization of technologies that are in their infancy and currently cost prohibitive, like carbon capture. That technology involves capturing CO2 from a gas plant, before it is released into the atmosphere, and permanently storing it in either liquid or solid form.

Poppe said she also sees a big role for energy storage.  

"Storage technologies that enable a higher dispatch of our renewables might reduce some of the need for fossil fuels to even be in the mix at all," she said.

Poppe said reaching the goal will also require the participation of Consumers Energy customers in reducing their energy use. 

Environmental groups reacted positively to the announcement. 

Kate Madigan is director of the Michigan Climate Action Network. "We appreciate Consumers Energy's vision to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040," Madigan said in a statement. “Climate change affects virtually every aspect of our lives, including our health, economy and Great Lakes, and a rapid and just transition to clean energy is critical to avoid the worsening impacts of our overheating climate." 

The net zero goal does not include the utility's gas business, although Consumers Energy also previously unveiled a plan to reduce emissions from its gas business. 

Editor's note: Consumers Energy is one of Michigan Radio's corporate sponsors.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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